Fear is a natural reaction to organisational change, but here are a few techniques that can ease (and prompt) your transition to continuous performance management

It is now pretty much universally accepted that continuous performance management is the most effective way of managing employee performance. Annual appraisals continue their sharp decline in popularity and regular performance discussions are no longer simply a disruptive performance management trend. Agile performance management is now the status quo for many companies, whilst others are beginning to transition towards this tried and trusted performance management tool.

Despite the many advantages of continuous performance management, there are still a number of companies who are resisting the changing tide. This resistance is usually the result of a fear of overhauling an existing system. Performance management affects everyone in the organisation, so any changes pose a big risk. Those responsible for such changes begin to ask themselves: “What happens if managers don’t adopt it?” or “What happens if employees complain even more than they do currently?”

Although fear has never been a good justification to not do something, we need to accept that fear does play a key role when it comes to stagnating performance management systems. As such, this article addresses these concerns and gives our professional advice on how — and why — you should overcome your trepidation and implement a new, more effective performance management system.

Be realistic — know that organisational change of any type takes time

You have just made a decision to make a significant organisational change, such as adopting a more future-focused performance management system. This is when you start to feel the pressure and you want immediate results that will prove you have made the right decision. You want engaged employees, you want to see improved morale and you want it all to happen soon.

However, it’s wise to temper your nerves and your excitement for now. All organisational change takes time and it won’t always be smooth sailing. During your transition process, allow for some obstacles and frustrations. Understand that change won’t happen overnight and you will inevitably encounter resistance from some camps. Once you accept this, it will be a weight off your mind and you can address these issues and confusions, without the pressure of feeling you must have a perfect system from day one.

Take it from the professionals – all companies can transition to continuous performance management

In just the past year, at Clear Review we have helped more than 50 diverse organisations transition away from annual appraisals, including Clydesdale & Yorkshire Banking Group, Pinewood Film Studios, Aston Villa Football Club, Institute for Apprenticeships, HarperCollins Publishers and Newport City Council. Ditching annual appraisals and moving towards regular performance discussions isn’t an impossible feat. Any business in any sector can be successful in the transition and reap the rewards. The key to getting it right is to communicate and to involve key stakeholders in the change. You need to give managers appropriate training and guidance and you need to talk to employees to make sure they understand why you are making the change. You also need to find the right performance review software to underpin the transition.

Change your perspective on how to measure a successful performance management system

Under annual appraisals, there was a pressure and expectation to get a high completion rate of annual appraisal forms. Knowing this, you might be putting yourself under the same pressure for regular performance discussions, and that would be a tall order. But, like all things, we need to consider the value of these kinds of metrics.

Let’s say you were previously getting 90% of annual performance review forms completed. However, it’s important to ask yourself how many of these appraisals actually led to meaningful discussions that contributed to improved performance? In all likelihood, not very many. Nobody enjoys annual appraisals. Everyone wants to get them over and done with as soon as possible and, as they try to accomplish so much in one meeting, that one meeting is generally onerous and an inefficient use of time and resources.

Let’s say you then moved to a new continuous model and you got say 50% of employees having regular, meaningful performance discussions in the first few months. Despite the lower face-value metric, this is likely to be a bigger win as a much higher proportion of your workforce will now be getting regular, performance-enhancing feedback than under your previous annual appraisals approach.

Keep your performance management system simple

Simplicity is one of the most important things to get right in any performance management system, but one of the easiest things to get wrong. The typical annual performance review is far too complex. It attempts to accomplish far too much in one go, much of which feels irrelevant to the employee and manager.

One thing you can be sure of in performance management is that the more you ask people to do, the less well they will do it. People can only handle so much and when you overburden them, you turn the process into a tick-box exercise that nobody enjoys.

Continuous performance management breaks things down into their component parts and keeps things simple. In our experience, this significantly minimises internal resistance to change. You can get immediate performance improvement just by having regular developmental conversations, combined with in-the-moment feedback. So for any elements on top of this that you want to add, you should question the value they are bringing to the process and make them simple and clear as possible. This is particularly true of performance-reward links which are commonly made far more complex than necessary (see this eBook for more information on this).

Ensure your performance management software is simple and user-friendly

On the note of simplicity, when selecting a performance management software to complement your new process, find a clear, simple, user-friendly package that you can use from day one. You shouldn’t need to have to provide any training on your new software – if you feel like you would need to, this is a sign that the software is too complex.

One of the most common complaints people have about software is that it is ‘clunky’ and not intuitive. This tends to be caused by software that has too many ‘features’. The more features a piece of software has, the more complex it will be to use. So before deciding on a software package, think about what are the most important features are to you and which ones will add the most value to your users. Then find a software package that focuses on doing these few things really well, rather than software that claims to do everything.

At Clear Review, we help businesses across all industries move away from broken annual appraisals to meaningful, regular performance discussions, using our proven continuous performance management software. To find out what we can do for you, book a free performance management software demo today.